跨越时空 文化价值观之变迁 / Cultural Values Change over Time and Across Borders

跨越时空 文化价值观之变迁

在很多国家,中老年人得益于社会习俗,可以让年轻人不得不耐着性子听他们的忠告,无论这些忠告是不是真的至理名言。

在中国,“听老人言”也是传统文化的显著特征之一,这从对长者的敬称上可见一斑。

作为一种尊重父母、善待长者的美德,孝道已经深深植根于中国社会,并代代相传,历经许多世纪。

很多年前,从很远的地方你就能凭满头华发辨认出中国的领导。但最近似乎比较难,也许是因为提拔到领导岗位上的年轻人越来越多,也许是因为染发非常流行。(@巴菲特:请您关注一下这个高增长的行业吧。)

最近我发表了一篇关于中美经商习俗的演讲,其中一个例子就是讲北美人相识不久就会用名字彼此称呼。但按照中国的习惯,一般都会用姓氏加职务来表示对高管的尊重,甚至尊崇。

再比如,你可以称呼副部长为“部长”,或者称副总裁为“总裁”,百试不爽。凡是拿不准的时候,在称谓上给他们升半级保准没错。

对于北美人在称谓上较为随意的天性,有观察家曾评价说:

“在加拿大,只有非常了解一个人,才能知道他姓什么。”

也就是说,他们还是主要用名字作为长期使用的称谓。这不仅与中国的习俗大相径庭,与很多欧洲国家也不太一样。一位德国老哥告诉我,即使是在最好的朋友圈里,他们也用姓氏加先生(Herr)来彼此称呼。

相比之下,在美国老家,我只不过是另外一个“汤姆”。但在中国,人们对我的称呼却五花八门,有“高董事长、高总编、高教授”等等。(难怪外国人都不愿意回国,因为在中国登机的时候我们还是“教授”,但回国一落地就被打回了“先生”。)

风俗习惯总是在改变。后来我发现“老师”这个称谓在中国非常普遍,比如“王老师、李老师”。这一称谓最初的流传反映出了老师在中国古代社会中的崇高地位。

但如今,使用“老师”作为敬称或姓氏后缀的情况似乎比过去常见多了,甚至扩展到无数与学校教师毫不相干、但在某个领域具备丰富经验的资深从业者身上。

关于孝道,最近有个演变引发了许多争议。中国老龄委和全国妇联颁布了一套新二十四孝标准,呼吁成年子女要和父母共度假期,经常为他们做饭,每周打电话。还要帮助离异或鳏寡父母再婚,和他们一起看老电影,听他们讲年轻时的故事,教他们如何上网。

新二十四孝将作为学校教育的内容,在一年内于15个主要城市展开。几个月前,全国人大开始修订保护老年人的法律,准备将忽视父母的行为定为刑事犯罪。

现在中国约有5,000万独居老人。但不出意料的是,很多人都认为法律和二十四孝标准不见得就是振兴孝道最合适或最有效的手段。

我认为提高社会对传统价值的认识是件好事,我个人也喜欢年轻人能倾听我的故事,帮我提高上网水平。但另一方面,我无法想象会为违反孝道而去报警。警察应该还有其他更重要的事要忙,我也是。

Cultural Values Change over Time and Across Borders

Middle-aged people in most countries benefit from the custom that younger people are obliged to listen patiently to their sage advice, whether it’s actually sage or not.

The respect accorded to the opinions of seniors is a notable feature of traditional Chinese culture. This is also reflected in the relatively honorific terms by which they are addressed.

The virtue of filial piety, which relates to treating parents and elders with great respect, has been deeply imbedded in Chinese society and taught to young people for centuries.

Once upon a time many years ago, you could spot a Chinese senior from a distance by their gray hair. In recent times it appears that either a lot more juniors have been promoted to senior leadership posts, or there is a whole lot of hair dying going on. (Note to Warren Buffet: check out this hot growth industry.)

I recently gave a presentation on the differences between Chinese and American business etiquette. One example of the many differences is that North Americans are very quick to address each other on a first-name basis; whereas in Chinese custom, senior executives are addressed with respectful, even lofty, titles following their surnames.

It’s always a safe bet, for example, when addressing a vice minister, to address him or her as “Minister”, to address a vice president as “President”, and so on. When in doubt, it’s always safe to give them a promotion.

On North Americans’ preoccupation with informality in the way we address each other, one observer even commented:

“You have to know a man awfully well in Canada to know his surname.”

In other words, first names remain the dominant terms of address for a long time. This is not only very different from Chinese custom, but from many European countries as well. One older German friend told me that even among his best friends, they still address each other by “Herr” (“Mr.”) followed by the surname.

By comparison, where I come from, the U.S., I’m just another “Tom.” Here in China, I am usually addressed in a much more deferential manner: Chairman Gao, Editor-in-Chief Gao, Professor Gao, etc. (No wonder foreigners are reluctant to return to their home country. We may board the airplane in China as a professor, and get off as just another mister.)

Customs are constantly changing. Lately I’ve noticed it’s very common in China to address people as “Teacher”, as in “Teacher Wong,” “Teacher Li,” etc. This began as a reflection of the exalted role of teachers in traditional Chinese society.

The difference today is that many of the people now called “Teacher” are now from the tax bureau, or other government departments. In addition to more teachers in today’s society, there seem to be a lot more people asking for favors.

The latest development in the field of filial piety has aroused some controversy. A set of new standards was recently jointly released by the China National Committee on Aging and the All-China Women’s Federation, which calls on adult children to be with their parents on holidays, cook for them from time to time, and telephone them each week. In addition, they should help divorced or widowed parents remarry, watch old movies together, listen to the stories of their youth, and teach them how to surf the internet.

The new 24-point guidelines are part of a year-long public education campaign targeting 15 major Chinese cities. Several months ago, the National People’s Congress moved to amend a law protecting elderly people, which would make it a criminal offense for children to neglect their parents.

There are apparently some 50 million old folks in China who are living alone. Not surprisingly, however, many people feel that laws and guidelines may not be appropriate or effective means of revitalizing the values of filial piety.

I think it’s a good thing to raise awareness of traditional values in society, and I personally like the idea of young people listening to my stories and helping me improve my internet skills. On the other hand, I can’t quite imagine calling the police to report a violation of filial piety. I think they have better things to do, and so do I.


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